Zimbabweans fear more repression after Abuja summit

Click to follow

Zimbabweans are predicting a new round of repression after President Robert Mugabe's decision late on Sunday night to pull his country out of the Commonwealth.

"There is no end in sight. It means more sanctions and more suffering," said Charity Charidza, recently laid off from her clerical job at a bank. "I think Zimbabwe has everything to lose from getting out of the Commonwealth while the Commonwealth itself has nothing to lose."

Mr Mugabe announced his decision after the organisation extend his country's suspension over electoral irregularities, despite opposition fromsome African leaders, including President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa. The South African government is now muttering darkly about quitting the Commonwealth unless Zimbabwe is re-admitted, after a "robust" exchange that lasted at least four hours at the Commonwealth summit in the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Mr Mugabe thumbed his nose again at the international community yesterday when he flew to Geneva for an information technology conference. He is the target of a travel ban to the European Union and the United States, but United Nations-sponsored events, which he attends, are exempt from the sanctions.

Tafadzwa Muchagonei, an employee of Harare city council, said he feared more repression as Mr Mugabe seeks revenge for his humiliation at the summit. "The decision to pull out means everything falls apart and we are the biggest losers in the end," he said. Like many Zimbabweans, he believes Mr Mugabe is playing to the African gallery, but at great cost to his nation. "He [Mugabe] wants to showcase himself as a great African who can fight white people who he blames for his troubles in the Commonwealth. But how is that going to help us?" asked Mr Muchagonei.

Peter Mundoza, a mechanic, said he was too angry to bother about Mr Mugabe's decision. "This man [Mr Mugabe] has defecated on this nation for a long time. It is high time he was stopped ... He has put us in this position whereby we can't think about anything else except how to survive from day to day ... How then can I be worried about commenting on his move?" said Mr Mundoza.

Peter Chitsva, a teacher turned street vendor, who now makes his living by selling his craft work and stone sculptures in Johannesburg, described Mr Mugabe's action as a "huge non-event." He said: "The only statement to do with Mugabe I shall ever pay attention to is one either announcing his death or departure from power ... That day will be my Christmas day."

Joshua Rusere, a political exile based in Johannesburg, was angry that Mr Mugabe had left the Commonwealth instead of being expelled over his dismal human rights record. He said: "It would have sent a strong signal to Mugabe if he had been expelled. It's unfortunate that Commonwealth leaders are pleading with him to stay in the club instead of saying good riddance."

There were already suggestions yesterday that Mr Mugabe will target remaining whites in the country out of revenge. One farmer who refused to be named said he had been told that all remaining white farmers would now be forced off their land. About 400 white farmers remain on their farms out of the 4,500 before land seizures began.

After declaring that he was confident he would be present for the Abuja summit, Mr Mugabe was clearly upset when the Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, refused to invite him. Many Zimbabweans think that humiliation prompted him to pull out, rather than his claim that he did so acting on principle.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said that the decision to withdraw from the organisation was unconstitutional.

But Mr Mugabe's supporters hailed the withdrawal. One self-styled war veteran, Alwed Matanda, said: "We should pull out from all bodies dominated by white countries and focus on encouraging the development of black institutions such as the African Union. We could even encourage the formation of the equivalent of the United Nations for black countries only."

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said he thought that Mr Mugabe's decision was "entirely in character, sadly. I think it's a decision which he and the Zimbabwean people will come to regret."

But Mr Mugabe was not the only loser: Tony Blair's relationship with Mr Mbeki has also been damaged. The British Government made the mistake of taking African support for granted, only to discover that the continent's leaders would not speak out strongly against Mr Mugabe as they resented being seen as British "poodles".